Growing the Tree of Science

Homi Bhabha and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research

by Dr. Indira Chowdhury

Dr. Indira Chowdhury

New India Foundation



How does a premier institute of science come into being? How does it foster a culture promoting free thinking and original research? What impact do the policies of a newly independent nation have on the way such an institute functions?

Exploring such themes and analysing the dissonances between institutional records and individual recollections, this book narrates the unique history of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai. Acutely aware that a scientific temper had not been nurtured in colonial India, Cambridge-trained physicist Homi Bhabha (later the architect of India’s atomic energy programme), wished to plant the tree of science on Indian soil. Thus was born TIFR on 19 December 1945. What followed were years of dynamic growth and struggle during which some of the best minds from across the world worked as well as taught at the institute. Using both archival documents and detailed interviews, Growing the Tree of Science blends history and memory to reinterpret institutional legacy by moving beyond Bhabha’s individual efforts and bringing to light the role of younger scientists during the formative years of TIFR. In the process emerges a fascinating account in which personal connections, novel forms of philanthropy, art and architecture, and international training networks, all come together in creating a vibrant culture of science at TIFR.

Contents: Acknowledgements List of Abbreviations Prologue: Tracing Institutional History, Excerpts from My Notebooks, 2002–2007 1. Dreams and Realities 2. Science and the Creation of an Elsewhere 3. Building a Scientific Community 4. International Networks and Institutional Life 5. The Predicaments of Institutional Legacy, Excerpts from My Notebooks, 2008­–2010 Epilogue: Institutional Memory and Institutional History Select Bibliography Index Printed Pages: 320.

Author Profile

Dr. Indira Chowdhury

Indira Chowdhury is Founder-Director of the Centre for Public History at the Srishti Institute of Art, Design, and Technology, Bengaluru. Formerly Professor of English at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, she is also the founder of Archival Resources for Contemporary History (ARCH), Bengaluru, now known as ARCH@Srishti. She has a PhD in history from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London and her book, The Frail Hero and Virile History (Delhi, OUP, 1998) won the Tagore prize in 2001. In 2010 she published A Masterful Spirit: Homi Bhabha 1909-1966 (Delhi: Penguin, 2010). She was awarded the New India Fellowship to work on the manuscript of her recently published book titled Growing the Tree of Science: Homi Bhabha and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (OUP: 2016).

Indira Chowdhury has been keenly interested in setting up archival resources for research – particularly oral history archives. She began the Urban History Documentation Project at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata in 1993. She set up the Archives of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai (2002-2006) and curated several archival exhibitions at TIFR including Partners in Science: JRD Tata and TIFR in 2005 and Homi Bhabha: The Cambridge Connection in 2007. Through ARCH she has created several archival books - Citizens and Revolutionaries: An Oral History of IIM Calcutta (Delhi: Rupa: 2012), The Lives of Objects: Stories from the Indian Museum (forthcoming) and Looking Back, Looking Forward: An Oral History of IMSc (forthcoming).

Indira was a founding member of the Oral History Association of India. She was President of the Oral History Association of India (2013-2016) and President of the International Oral History Association (2014-2016).